A 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness – known only as ‘X’ – is being forced to have a blood transfusion, after the NSW Supreme Court ruled that the teenager must undergo the potentially lifesaving procedure.
The patient is suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a lethal form of blood cancer – but has threatened to rip an IV needle out of his own arm, if a blood transfusion is attempted.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Bible prohibits the ‘ingesting’ of blood – or even components of blood such as platelets and plasma – and therefore do not believe that Christians should accept blood transfusions.
Even in emergencies. Even when it is literally a matter if life or death.
Teenager X told Professor Glenn Marshall – his doctor at the Sydney Children’s Hospital – that if he were put under aneasthesia in order to be given a blood transfusion – it would be akin to ‘rape’.
When handing down his ruling that the teenager will be forced to accept the blood transfusion, Supreme Court Justice Ian Gzell said that the young patient had been ”cocooned in faith” throughout his life.
While doctors had tried to respect the young patient’s wishes for as long as possible, his case became more and more serious. Now? Treatment is the only thing that will save them.
When X was first admitted into hospital in January of 2012, he underwent seven months of chemotherapy. X initially went into remission but then Professor Marshall discovered cancer in his lungs, spleen and lymph nodes.
Because a higher dose of chemotherapy was likely to require a blood transfusion, X underwent two cycles of a lower dose – but his tumors were barely reduced.
In March this year, X developed severe anaemia and his chemotherapy treatments had to be stopped altogether. Still, the patient refused any further treatments that could result in a blood transfusion being necessary.
And then the doctors took the case to court.
Professor Marshall, who has 20 years’ experience treating children with cancer, told the Court X had an 80 per cent chance of dying from anaemia without a blood transfusion.
If he was allowed to administer his preferred treatment, he said X would have up to a 50 per cent chance of survival. Apart from ripping out the IV if he could, X and his father would otherwise obey the court order, Judge Gzell found.
”The sanctity of life in the end is a more powerful reason for me to make the orders than is respect for the dignity of the individual,” Justice Gzell said in his ruling. ”X is still a child, although a mature child of high intelligence.”
What makes this case different from so many before it is that the court’s ruling was handed down only 10 months before the patient is set to turn 18. As soon as the teenager is legally considered an adult, his wishes to refuse a transfusion would have to be respected.
Precious cases where the facts have been analogous, have always involved young children, whose parents have forbidden doctors to use blood transfusions. This time it’s different.